On January 9th at the intersections of Hollywood and Highland, 8,000 visual kei fans gathered to catch a glimpse of Japan’s largest rock band, X Japan. For those of you who are new to the whole Visual Kei movement, X Japan, known as the godfathers of this genre, have sold over 30 million albums to date. Yoshiki, the drummer and piano player in the group, is adored globally on the level, some say, of Michael Jackson. X Japan’s music and style, known as Visual Kei, mixes fashion, make-up, anime influences, and rock opera that is so infectious, there’s been a spike in those wanting to learn Japanese among youth culture in North America. This is so they can understand the lyrics of J-rock Visual Kei bands in general, including bands we’ve interviewed before such as D’espairs Ray and Miyavi.
Fans for X Japan.
X Japan was in town to film 4 music videos for their songs Rusty Nail, Jade, I.V., and Endless Rain. It took 2 helicopters, 3 crane cameras, 300 pyro-cannons, and an additional 20 cameras, resulting in an amazing pyrotechnic extravaganza and custom laser show that blew away screaming fans.
Ironically, while this music subculture and fashion style is growing massively among youth culture in North America, it’s still on the cusp among mainstream media: When we first wrote about J-rock and Visual Kei bands in 2007 from the Jrock Revolution Festival, an event featuring 9 of the top J-rock bands, magazines such as Spin, Rolling Stone, MTV, and even Alternative Press were shamefully no where in sight. Yet thousands of passionate 14-25-year-olds packed the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles for the festival. The shows sold out within hours with no real traditional advertising or marketing at all, but rather through word-of-mouth, social networks, and band fansites as people from all parts of the United States, and as far away as Chile, the UK, and Canada flocked to see their favorite J-rock musicians live in concert.
Visual Kei has such a strong undercurrent of followers among younger, anime and music-inspired fans, that it’s clearly making a mark on streetwear fashion among this new generation of consumers. What most American music editors cannot believe is how can people absolutely love music that’s sung in Japanese? Even fashion leaders on the edge are hung-up on pinpointing just where EGA (Elegant Gothic Aristocrats) and other anime-inspired fashion are coming from. Neither see the anime and J-rock connection which clearly illustrates the generation gap within pop culture itself.
Visual Kei Fans from the J-Rock Festival in 2007–Gives you an idea of the style.
From a typical ethnocentric American perspective (of a 30 -year-old), J-rock or Visual Kei style is perceived as a rip-off of Marilyn Manson or Harajuku-loving Gwen Stefani, when the reality is that the real sources, the J-rock bands, especially X Japan, and fans combined with anime, are the inspiration from which such artists created their styles.
Visual Kei, which means visual style, by its very definition is where music and fashion collide, and of course it’s the Japanese who take us there. Visual Kei is high-maintenance, visually stimulating music and fashion delivered with an androgynous flair. It’s completely post-gender. Performers’ styles such as Yoshiki’s include unique coordinates, accessories, nail polish, hair, and colored contact lens in some cases–all intended as extensions of the freedom of expression of one’s music. But the sounds are not the Western-imitation machines many Americans still think of when it comes to music from Japan. These musicians each have their own style of rock that cross boundaries into something new from rock, metal, goth, punk, emo, and J-pop, traditional Japanese music, and hip-hop—even going so far as to mix many such sounds within the same song. All of the bands’ lead musicians can actually sing, and they all play their instruments extremely well, which is not something that can be said for all of the famous rock artists from America today.
The fashion that’s inspired by this Japanese music movement also represents a mash-up of extremes, with hints of d’j’ vu, then taken to the next level and making it completely original in a futuristic way…which is then copied by those of us in America and Europe. There’s Kabuki stage characterizations from J-rock/Visual Kei performers such as Miyavi, including colorful eye make-up and the use of fans or hand signals as a fan-dance, kimonos, obi sashes, and the like worn over denim jeans. There’s jeans over jeans and vests over vests. Suits in red and black stripes, white and metallic, feathers, two-toned hair, goth piercings, garters, forearm sleeves, accessories worn at unique angles, and/or hip-hop flavors in bright ‘80’s rave colors combined with track pants and an obi sash, Japanese graphics, goth, punk, metal, character embellishments paired with BAPE shoes or Japanese geisha sandals.Some mark the movement from the early ‘80’s glam rock style which started with X Japan, especially Yoshiki. However the 21st century format includes glam rock taken to an all-together new level ranging from alice nine.’s punk/goth red and black ensembles that make Hot Topic designers look like amateurs, to Miyavi’s Japanese hip-hop/Kabuki version of funk-a-delic that would make Prince and even Morris Day and the Time stand up and take a bow in a moment of fashion reverence. J-rock, or Visual Kei, is seriously that original and is a fashion movement on the verge across America’s youth culture landscape.
As if to prove our point, the Textile Museum in Washington D.C. is currently hosting an exhibition of Japanese avante garde fashion trends, much of which comes from Visual Kei and the crossover of Goth, Lolita, Aristocrat, anime, and Kawaii. Last Sunday the museum hosted a fashion show representing such styles and a conference surrounding the birth of this growing subculture and where things are headed. In addition, the display features key pieces from international designers inspired by the movement including Rei Kawakubo from Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, and Issey Miyake.
In a final note, X Japan, which may have started in the ‘80’s was way ahead of their time. Now that they’re back again, and bigger than ever, they’re clearly a band to watch, not only for their music, but the inspiration they provide across many genres including fashion and Visual Kei inspired lifestyles.